I wish I had the right words at my disposal to convey my horror, sadness and outrage in the wake of the latest massacre at an American school. We know it’s the 18th school shooting since just the beginning of this year; we know that the deeply disturbed shooter had access to an arsenal of deadly weapons; we know that our elected officials will wring their hands, often saying that they wish there was something they could do while offering thoughts and prayers.
Thoughts and prayers. Yes, these words seem to lose their power when repeated too often after episodes of extreme violence. But reaching out to express condolences and care is not meaningless, even if it is not enough. When we lose the capacity for sympathy after events like this, we lose something essential about our humanity.
Many people have been repeating “there are no words,” to describe how lost they feel after something this traumatic. But here are two words I learned to use this fall at Wesleyan’s Shasha Seminar on Human Concerns: gun safety. Surely, those we have elected to office can find ways to write laws to ensure that firearms circulate more safely. Basic safety rules won’t solve all the issues, but when they have been enacted, gun violence declines.
We need words. We need sympathy. We need time to mourn. And we need legislation that will keep us safer from mass violence.